Politics is sometimes compared to a game with Machiavellian actors and rogue characters who are only for themselves. A former British Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston once said, “We have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. It’s a saying many still follow in international politics, though it’s worrying that its words are taken at face value more than 160 years later and after so much has changed in the world.
In the same vein, the recently revealed news that Mevlut Cavusoglu, the Turkish Foreign Minister, met his Syrian counterpart came as an unpleasant surprise for the Syrian people and even his admission that it was a brief and informal meeting on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Belgrade last October, did little to allay fears of normalization. The word Cavusoglu used was “reconciliation” between the Syrian regime and the opposition, which was of particular concern. Reconciliation involves forgiveness, it indicates that the parties are ready to move on and move on. The regime and the opposition cannot simply reconcile. Bashar Al-Assad is the region’s biggest terrorist and has killed far more than Daesh and the PKK combined in the past 11 years of conflict. Talking about legitimate Al-Assad reconciliation. It also goes against UN Security Council Resolution 2254 which stipulates that a political transition takes place. Any attempt at reconciliation with Al-Assad renders a transition futile.
It’s also odd that this was only recently revealed, despite taking place almost a year ago. Why didn’t Cavusoglu raise it then? Is Russia pressuring Turkey to play a more active role and step up its efforts? It’s no secret that Turkiye views the separate Kurdish terrorist group PKK as an existential threat to him and that means any interest he’s taken in Syria lately has been under the banner of shutting down the group rather than to fight the Assad regime that he has been such a critic in the past. Syria‘s territorial integrity is now Turkey’s top priority, and arresting Al-Assad is secondary.
This is not the case with the Syrian people who continue to see Al-Assad as the root of the problem. Turkey – to some extent, understandably – sees the creation of an independent Kurdish state that broke away from Syria as a precursor for things to come. It is therefore of grave concern that the Democratic Union Party (also known as the PYD) and its forces, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), are making further inroads into northeastern Syria and controlling already the territory of the region. There is an added irony that the SDF works with the Assad regime, which means the regime plays both sides; and succeed.
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Over the past few weeks, Turkey has unsuccessfully tried to prevent Finland and Sweden from joining NATO on the grounds that they are harboring PKK opposition figures and therefore working with Russia. on the Kurdish question. And while he still doesn’t seem to have the green light to conduct a military operation, that hasn’t deterred him from making threats.
Accountability is crucial. Reconciliation with Al-Assad means that this is no longer the case. Those who committed crimes must be made to confront their victims as the Nazi war criminals did at Nuremberg. If they hadn’t, and if prominent Nazi figures had remained in post-war Germany, the perpetrators would not have been punished. It is the same for Syria and justice cannot be done without accountability. This has even led over the past two days to anti-Turkey protests in the northwestern region that is not under the regime’s control as well as the regular anti-Assad protests that continue to take place.
Moreover, Turkey has even lost its own soldiers due to the actions of the Syrian regime. These are not the actions of a state that will reconcile and act in good faith. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not solve his security problems by even thinking about working with Al-Assad, which is unpredictable and has presided over crimes against humanity and war crimes perpetrated on an industrial scale.
When the Syrian uprising began in 2011 and world leaders lined up to pay lip service to the idea that they found the Al-Assad regime morally wrong, Turkey was sincere in its support for the people. Syrian. Millions of Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey and its treatment of them until recently has been by far the best in the region. Turkiye stood with the Syrian people and offered exile to those who fled Al-Assad. He can be called a friend of the Syrian revolution, which makes these past comments all the more disturbing. Does Turkey want to be remembered like this after all the support it has given the Syrian people over the past decade? The fact that Ankara has been willing to restore relations with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi after years of animosity bodes ominously.
For better or for worse, the past, present and future of Syria and Turkey are intertwined. From hundreds of years within the Ottoman Empire to the current situation, the close cultural and family ties shared by the two peoples mean that the two states cannot pretend that the other does not exist. Turkey must invest and take care of a future democratic Syria; which respects the rule of law and human rights and which got rid of Al-Assad.
The ninth anniversary of the 2013 chemical attacks in Ghouta is fast approaching. It has been unequivocally proven that the Assad regime was behind these attacks and violated international humanitarian law. What would the victims think of an idea of reconciliation with a regime that has committed such a crime? It’s hard to think they would be so forgiving.
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